Elderly And Terminally Ill Pets - Coping With The Inevitable
It is a sad reality of my work that I am often contacted to help an owner coping with a pet's terminal illness or approaching death. There are a number of questions that swirl around the situation: Is my dog suffering? How will I know when she is ready to go? What happens after death? Will my cat be mad at me for euthanizing him? Will I ever see my beloved friend again?
Needless to say, these are among the most heart-wrenching questions a pet owner faces, and understanding what is happening from the animal's perspective is crucial in making the right decision for person and pet.
When it comes to our pets, few things are more tragic than seeing their lives cut short by a painful illness. So many times I wish I could wave a magic wand to give a client the understanding she seeks, but the best I can do is share what I've felt and learned in working with so many clients in similar circumstances.
First, I want to assure you that your animal friend is very much aware of the love you hold for her and your efforts to keep her comfortable. The road ahead is not an easy one. Your girl is depending on you to help her exit her body when the time comes, as most animals simply do not have it within their ability to cross on their own. There are key things to watch for that will help you to know it's time. If a terminally ill animal stops eating, it is most often because he or she can no longer utilize the nutrition. What I mean by that is that the digestive system may have begun shutting down with the disease or from medication overload. When a pet can no longer digest food or keep it down, he will usually cease eating. The ability to get up and down for drinking, eating or going potty is also a critical element. If your furry friend cannot become mobile on her own, watch her eyes very closely (I’ll explain in a moment). Incontinence or loss of bowel control is also a deal-breaker for many animals. Like humans, dogs, cats and other animals take pride in having control over their bodily functions. When they lose command over potty routines, many lose the will to live. Finally, watch your girl for signs that the pain has increased to an intolerable level. For pets with debilitating diseases like bone cancer, I recommend you keep a daily calendar recording the animal's apparent pain level on a scale of one to ten. This is easy to do when you make a habit of noting your friend's head set, wag of the tail, enthusiam for food, sparkle in the eye, ease of movement. By rating your pet daily, you are better able to gauge when the level has reached the breaking point. For most pets, daily pain levels at 8 or above, even with medication, are intolerable.
As I mentioned earlier, watch your friend's eyes. Barring cognitive dysfunction or blindness, most animals will clearly show their will to live or to be set free in their eyes. When the spark is gone and the brow is furrowed, hard as it is, you must take your pet's head in your hands and look deep in her eyes. Ask her if she is ready to go. You will see a flash of expression—an answer—move over her face. It will likely move you to tears. When that happens, you know it's time to call the veterinarian.
Transitions in life are painful more often than not. Your walk with your animal during her final days is, I'm sure, a real heart-breaker. You are in good company. I find the most inspirational teachers are the ones who have experienced life at its worst and most painful. There is much truth to the statement that nothing makes you appreciate what you have more than having it taken away.
On a planetary level, there are many transitions and losses in process. I suspect the Gulf oil spill of 2010 is a tangible metaphor for what so many are experiencing in their personal lives. We find we are polluted by toxins beyond our control—ones that affect our ability to be creative, to live freely—much as the oil may stymie reproduction, and compromise marine health.
From the microcosm I live in called Fountaintown, I am seeing transitions in the lives of friends and families alike. There has been an endless passage of loved ones leaving the earth for spirit. That, in and of itself, is a signpost that we are indeed shifting into a new phase, as individuals, as a community, and our world as a whole. Souls often decide that such transitions are an opportunity to go back to spirit, to rest and regroup, without experiencing the upheaval in a cumbersome body. I hear echoes from distant lands that so closely resemble the difficulties being faced by those close to me, that it would appear this time of transformation is far more global than we might think.
There are some tools to help you cope with the challenges these times present, whether that is overall stress or grief and anxiety over your pet's situation. I make use of essential oils and flower essences when feeling particularly stressed. My favorites include Young Living Peace & Calming (great when I’m super nervous) and Bach Flower Essence Rescue Remedy. For grieving pets (the ones left behind), I use Bach Flower Essence Gorse (dosing for pets is generally 1 drop per 10 pounds of weight, up to a max dose of 7 drops, 1-2 times per day). I also take valerian root if I’m having trouble sleeping at night (I tend to be a worrier). Regular massages are also helpful in reducing stress, and Reiki treatments are a wonderful way to rebalance your energy fields. All of these therapies are also excellent aids for your pets. Meditation, reading inspired works, and taking time to journal, have all proven beneficial for me in working through difficult transitions. Then, of course, my favorite is prayer. I find that talking to my angels, guides and spirits, all part of the divine order, really helps me feel like someone bigger is watching over me, helping me through these turbulent waters. I never cease to be amazed at how I am provided for, guided, and helped along. Saying “thank you” to these divine helpers is a practice I cultivate throughout my day.
Clients have deep concerns about how their beloved pets are doing after death. They often ask what animals experience during and after transition. While the answers are as individual as the pets themselves, I've discovered plenty of common elements.
Animals that pass typically require somewhere around 24-48 hours to complete the transition from a bodily existence to one that is entirely spirit. It is wise to allow pets to complete that transition before attempting to contact them, but sometimes an animal comes through a little sooner. Without exception, every animal has told me that spirit, or heaven, as we call it, is a good place. There is no more pain, no sadness. Clients ask me if their beloved dog or cat misses them and the answer is no, because from the pet's position, they do not experience that sense of separation that we do. Perhaps you've heard the expression about “seeing beyond the veil.” Well, there is truth to that statement. From our end, most people have difficulty perceiving what came before or what comes after our time spent in a body. That is not true for most animals; they carry with them a full knowledge of life (or lives) prior to the one in which we knew them and what will come after they leave their bodies. Consequently, most animals do not fear death at the end of a long life; they fear premature death, painful passing or suffering, but they are not afraid of what lies beyond the physical realm. They know that they can come back in a body when they choose, in whatever sort of body tickles their fancy. Pets in spirit, like those still in their bodies, will often tell me of what life was like in a previous body, relating experiences of other species or earlier encounters with beloved two- and four-legged companions, who also may have appeared differently. Clients will ask if their friend is in the company of a family member (human or animal) who predeceased their beloved pet. The answer is sometimes, and sometimes they are with companions we do not recognize.
Over the years I've learned that we all have two families: one is the biological unit we are born into and would include our parents, siblings and extended family. The other is our soul family. It is likely that several of your biological family members are also members of your soul family, but you will have many members of your soul family who are in no way physically related. These are the individuals you meet who you just click with. It’s as if you've known each other for years—an instant recognition, if you will. The same is true for our furry companions. We may adopt a dog that just settled into our lives like he'd been a member for years. That comfort and familiarity is a dead give-away that this individual is a member of our soul family. It does not matter what the present state of our existence is (in spirit or in a body); we will be surrounded by members of our soul family. Pets have recounted many different lifetimes spent with various members of their soul families. The circumstances and lessons of each lifetime are unique, but the souls whom we encounter most closely tend to be members of our soul family. Soul twins are, as you would guess, the most closely bonded of all the soul family members. A pair of souls with this relationship are likely to constantly pass in and out of each other's various lifetimes, forever weaving into and overlapping the other's existence.
When animals show who they are with in spirit, it is most often the members of their soul family who are displayed. Some of these individuals are recognized by the owner, either as pets who have also passed (sometimes these animals lived at completely different times with the owner, never actually meeting, but they are members of the same soul family, nevertheless), or family and friends of the human variety. Clients are often surprised to learn there are individuals they do not recognize, keeping their beloved company. When I explain to them that these are the closest members, on a soul-level, to their friend, and that their companionship is truly heaven, the owners are reassured.
Animals who have crossed into spirit are still able to see and hear us; they also have an awareness of our emotions, thoughts and experiences. Even though they have passed from the physical, they are still part of our lives—we just may not be aware of that presence because of our limited perception. Clients are nearly always surprised when a pet in spirit begins to comment about a car repair or appliance issue that the owner is having at home. How on earth would my dog or cat know that, you ask? Because they are still part of your life. Every time you think of your pet's name, you have summoned his soul into your presence and he can see, feel and hear you, just like always.
The soul is not bound by the physical constraints and laws of physics as we traditionally understand them. Being in a physical body means that we related to our environment on a limited basis, most often through the sensory perceptions of that body rather than through the perceptions of our intuition or soul. Western teaching has conditioned us to think about our world through the use of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. To perceive by our emotions or intuition is a fairly foreign concept, yet that is a far more accurate means of assessing our real place in the universe. Eastern cultures have explored the notion of oneness with the universe and observation of the self in much greater depth than we have in the West. Gurus, saints, mystics and other light seekers will often report experiences of connecting with divine, the absence of judgement, connection to all and knowledge on a soul level when deep in meditation or prayer. There are hallucinagenic plants that have been used by indigenous cultures to assist those wishing to tap into a higher level of consciousness. It is at these highest levels that contact with our own souls and those of our beloved departed souls may occur.
The majority of people I speak with have reported that they have experienced at least one incredibly vivid dream during their life. Sometimes they encounter a deceased family member or pet. Upon waking, the dreamer states that it seemed incredibly real, as if they had actually been with that loved one. It may sound odd, but the fact is that the dreamer was in the company of that individual by virtue of the astral plane. The astral plane is a dimension of reality, one not readily perceived by human senses, that may be visited by souls on a regular basis. Dreamers may go on a soul journey, leaving their slumbering bodies behind in bed, while the soul travels effortlessly to the astral plane. A long-dead parent or childhood pet may be waiting to greet them on the astral plane. The experience is real, it just doesn't meet the traditional definition of reality based on the senses of the body. From a soul perspective, though, the meeting has absolutely occurred. It is not uncommon that dreams of this nature become life altering or that the dreamer is able to recall, decades later, the dream in minute detail. The dream is as real as rain.
Souls are eternal; they do not die like the body, which has a finite existence. As immortal entities, the soul, once released from the earthly constraints of a body, is capable of perceiving love, hearing words and thoughts, and comprehending the reality of the person still inhabiting the physical world. This describes how our deceased pets are still part of our everyday lives. They lack a body but they do not lack love or presence, even if we have difficulty perceiving it.
People who have lost loved ones, whether human or animal, often report feeling the nearness of the deceased. Oftentimes, they see something out of the corner of the eye but when they look directly at the area in question, there is no one there. In humans, the periperal vision is much more adept at perceiving energy, and souls radiate energy. This is why we believe we have seen something off to the side, yet when we turn our frontal vision, the one conditioned to perceive using traditional sensory methods, we see nothing. The soul is there. The hair may stand up on the neck or you may feel a brush against your leg or a warm hug. All of these are your soul's way of reacting to the “touch” of another soul.
Animals have an awareness of that infinite quality of the soul in a way that is to be envied by humans. That knowledge of what came before life in this body and the certainty of life afterward makes them far more accepting of death. While few animals want to leave a perfectly good young body, most have no problem trading in the “old” model when it becomes riddled with the aches and pains of age and/or disease. They view the body as little more than a suitcase which houses the soul, one that may be traded in for a new body when the old one is worn out. As such, few pets fear death itself. They worry about the events leading up to the point of exit, but they don't worry about what follows.
For aged and ill pets, the separation of soul from the body may begin to occur days or weeks ahead of the moment of clinical death. Intuitives skilled in viewing auras often describe a gray color surrounding an individual who has begun separation of body and soul. Even with humans, there is often a period prior to death where this straddling of two worlds is perceived by color or energy surrounding the person in transition.
As the point of death approaches, owners often notice that their pets are looking up at the ceiling or corner, as if seeing something there. This isn't a mental imbalance on the part of the dying animal. Like humans, animals also have guardian angels and guides. When the time of transition from body to spirit approaches, the guides or angels assigned to the pet will often step up their presence to the point that even we two-legged beings begin to notice. Animals’ souls are accompanied to spirit by their guides or angels; they do not cross alone. Clients have told me they found this tidbit immensely comforting, as they worried that their dog, cat or horse would be confused upon finding itself without a body. Rest assured your friend was guided over by only the most loving of friends. Sometimes the pet is even escorted by a previously deceased four-legged family member.
Animals who experience a traumatic death, such as being struck by a car or killed by a bullet, will describe to me, from spirit, the details of their passing with complete detachment. They replay a scene for me that is much like viewing a clip from a CSI episode involving a murder victim. In the case of sudden death, the soul exits the body a few microseconds prior to that trauma that resulted in mortality. The soul crosses into spirit without actually experiencing any of the pain that the physical body may have endured before clinical death would be declared. It is spared the horrific sensations. In the case where a soul is called back into the body and the animal or person is brought back to life, all of the pain and trauma is registered with a resounding clarity in every tissue of the body.
I have had many clients who were guilt-ridden over the less-than-peaceful passing of a pet. Nightmares of a pet screaming or reacting violently replay through an owner's mind. When I explain to them that the soul exited the body and left the memory of those physical experiences behind, they begin to experience a sense of peace. Pets in spirit have, without exception, told me that all memories of pain are completely detached the moment the soul separates. Without the physical body, the instances of pain are no more real to the pet's soul than watching an animated coyote being crushed by boulder is to a person watching the cartoon.
What the pet's soul does take over to spirit is love. Love is the strongest form of energy in the universe. It does not dim or die over time and space. It is the force behind creation. When our animal friends take leave of their body, they leave pain behind, but love travels with the soul, carrying them to spirit where they are surrounded by still more love; that of their soul family members. It is that bond of love that keeps us connected to our four-legged friends in spirit. It facilitates the communication of our daily lives to that soul in heaven. That continued thread of love also ensures that when it becomes your time to depart from the body, your soul will find itself surrounded and showered by the love of your soul family, including your beloved pets in spirit.
I can think of no better analogy for a soul than the lowly caterpillar. The body, like the caterpillar, has to die in its present form before being reborn as the beautiful butterfly. Trust in the metamorphosis.
Pet Parents: A Journey Through Unconditional Love and Grief
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